Lina George – Litigation to HR

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Here’s my misfit story. Although, I prefer to call it a testimonial to finally finding my passion and how it led to fulfillment. My career can be split down the middle as 50% as litigation lawyer and the other 50% as a human resources professional.

I worked in the oil and gas business right out of college and entered law school at night fully anticipating to be a Landman upon graduation with oil and gas company for which I worked. Landmen (they did not have gender appropriate job titles in those days!) negotiated the deals with landowners in order to drill and extract oil and gas reserves from their properties. Unfortunately, the bottom fell out of the oil and gas business my second year in law school and I had to opt for Plan B---becoming a litigator.

I worked for a law firm and enjoyed aspects of my job such as the research and writing, but I detested the constant fighting the role required. As a litigator, I had to fight for my client and I was doing battle with someone daily. It was not in my nature to enjoy conflict or to be on the tail end of cleaning up messes after they had occurred (e.g. a lawsuit).

I had glimpses of what I enjoyed doing when I volunteered to onboard and conduct weekly training sessions of the summer law clerks. The law firm partners were more than happy to give me this assignment. I enjoyed sharing with the law clerks the unwritten rules of the legal profession and all the subtleties of practicing law that they just did not teach in law school. Unfortunately, the enjoyable part of my job lasted only a few hours during the year. The rest of the time it was back in the ring sparring with someone about something.

I became successful as a litigator in ERISA (the federal law that governs employee benefit plans), employment discrimination, wrongful discharge and labor disputes. This expertise provided me an escape path when one of my law firm clients offered me an inhouse position as their Labor and Employment Counsel.

After about 2 years in this inhouse counsel role, the new head of Human Resources for the company asked me to help him with a project in Human Resources. The project dealt with standardizing human resources policies and procedures across 500 locations and creating the first comprehensive and consistent employee handbook, supervisor’s guide, compensation guide, criminal background check and workplace violence SOP. I was in heaven for two reasons: (1) building programs to PREVENT problems and (2) working collaboratively with other stakeholders to actually get things accomplished.

When I completed the project, the head of HR asked me to stay in human resources and not return to the legal department. I stayed in HR and my career took off eventually becoming the Senior Vice President of Labor and Employee relations for the company responsible for staffing, organizational effectiveness, compensation, performance management, benefits, compliance, risk management and collective bargaining. Since then, I have served as the SVP of Global Human Resources for retail, technology and manufacturing organizations including the Fortune One retailer in the world. For the last two-and-half years, I have had the privilege of serving as the Chief Human Resources Officer for the 5th largest public hospital in the United States where we serve patients regardless of ability to pay. Our patient and community value proposition is “Our arms are open wide” and our employee value proposition is “It’s more than just a job.”

I was a misfit as a lawyer because my core values of kindness, compassion, customer/ patient focused and solution driven were not aligned to the work I was doing. Working in human resources was my “AHA” moment and I have never looked back.

As I have matured, I continue to evolve and sought a PhD to better understand my craft as a human resources professional. My greatest joy and fulfillment is in helping others be the very best version of themselves and to create the conditions and opportunities for another person to reach their promise and fulfill their potential. It is for this reason that I hope my encore or 5th season career (or whatever snappy label you can place on it) is that of a professor. In a way, becoming a professor will be returning to what I enjoyed at the law firm when I mentored the summer law clerks. What a difference a lifetime of experience makes and I am so grateful for every step I have taken because it has gotten me here and fulfilled.